A review of: Hoeve, M., Dubas, J., Eichelsheim, V., Laan, P., Smeenk, W., & Gerris, J. (2009). The Relationship Between Parenting and Delinquency: A Meta-analysis Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology DOI: 10.1007/s10802-009-9310-8

It is exciting to begin the Child Psychology and Parenting Research blog with a review of probably the largest meta-analysis ever conducted on the association between parenting styles and delinquency. A meta-analysis consists of a statistical review of the previously published (and sometimes unpublished) literature on a particular topic. For example, hundreds of articles have examined the association between harsh discipline practices and negative outcomes, such as aggression and delinquency. Some studies have shown that harsh discipline practices are associated with worse outcomes when compared to non-harsh methods. Yet, other studies have failed to find such association, or argued that other factors are at play (culture, warmth, etc). So the question remains, when you look at all the results of all the previous studies combined, what what do you see?

This is one of the questions explored by Hoeve et al (in press) in a recently published meta-analysis of the relationship between parenting and delinquency. They analyzed data from 161 published manuscripts conducted between 1950 and 2007.

What did they find?

The table below presents the effect sizes of the association between a selected number of parenting practices and delinquency. The first number column (from left to right) includes the number of studies analyzed. The second column includes the sample size of the analysis. The third column presents the effect size. This is the column of interest to us. An effect size is a measure of the association between two variables. Positive numbers mean that the parenting practice was associated with more delinquency. Negative numbers mean that the parenting practice was associated with less delinquency.

Most of the results are not surprising. For example, authoritative parenting was associated with less delinquency while authoritarian parenting was associated with more delinquency. Many argue that this may be a function of the child. That is, kids that are more delinquent may simply need (or elicit) more authoritarian parenting while kids that are less delinquent are likely to elicit more authoritative parenting. Yet, studies have shown that whether you are Authoritarian vs. Authoritative is most often determined before your first kid is even born, and is highly dependent upon your own experience of discipline (how you were disciplined) and your general political/personality orientation.

But the results are also consistent with the idea that being authoritarian does not mean being permissive, or a “softy”. The authors found that permissiveness was associated with more delinquency, while rule setting, monitoring, and consistent discipline were associated with less delinquency. Thus the general finding confirm what studies have reported for decades. Firm, consistent, but not harsh discipline is associated with less delinquency while harsh, permissive, controlling, and overprotecting parenting are associated with more delinquency.

What about the effects of the parent and the child gender?

This issue was also interesting. There was no difference between boys and girls in how parenting was associated with delinquency. That is, boys were not more susceptible to harsh parenting than girls. However, supportive behavior by fathers was a stronger predictor of less delinquency than supportive behaviors by mothers. In addition, when examining the effects of the child and the parent’s gender combined, the authors reported that the effect of parenting on delinquency was stronger among father-son pairs, than among mother-daughter pairs. This underscores the need for strong son-father parenting relationships that are based on consistent, firm, yet non-harsh parenting styles.

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